Kennedy Graham

Peace and disarmament in a whole continent – Latin Americans lead the way, again

by Kennedy Graham

Last week the heads of 31 South American and Caribbean nations yesterday declared a ‘zone of peace’ amongst their countries, at the annual CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) meeting in Havana, Cuba.

The zone of peace (in short) is based on a number of principles:

-          Maintain respect for international law

-          Observe peaceful dispute settlement, to ‘uproot forever threat or use of force in our region’

-          Regard disarmament as priority

-          Respect the sovereign right of nations to choose their own political, economic, social system

This aspiration, toward a community of nations which agree to accept diversity and renounce the tools of violence (between each other at least), is of course admirable.

It is also intriguing as the use of peace as a political tool for resistance, and the use of respect between nation-states as a potential curb for the ability of regional frameworks to step in where there might be a human (or indeed, environmental), need.

CELAC was formed, in part, as a means to collaborate against some of the excesses of the United States in imposing its values on other states. The US routinely blocks Cuba from entering into trade, or trade agreements, because of an ideological difference between political systems.  Cuba feels passionately about its hard-won political and economic system, and believes this to be an unfair and unjustified imposition on a sovereign nation-state.

This declaration, then, is not to be read only as an idealistic aspiration towards a peaceful existence, though it certainly is that. It is also a political statement of resistance.

Note also the absence of caveat in the following clause:

“The commitment of the States of the region with their strict obligation not to intervene, directly or indirectly, in the internal affairs of any other State and observe the principles of national sovereignty, equal rights and self-determination of peoples;”

Of course such a sentiment is essential to nation-states that have routinely and unjustifiably been interfered with and imposed on by bipolar struggle and then hegemonic regional and world order. But it also embeds the traditional Westphalian concept of total national sovereignty, exercised by a nation’s recognised leaders – which has its merits but also its limitations.

The global community has been gradually accepting the concept of ‘responsibility to protect’, albeit with major disagreement about when this ought to kick-in (Rwanda, Srebenica, Kosovo, Libya, Syria), but also agreement about when the global community has failed to protect people from their own leaders, or within state borders (see my recent blog about possible genocide in Central African Republic).

Without wishing to align the actions of South American or Caribbean nations with such devastating atrocities, there is, I suggest, a legitimate point at which the global community should ‘step in’, however risky such a move might be. There is, moreover, a legitimate point at which states should pressure their regional neighbours to do better for the people who share the region. Does the ‘zone of peace’ allow for one nation to do something about police brutality in Brazil? Or the limitation of indigenous rights in Ecuador?  Might Ecuador grant asylum to a dissident from Guatemala who has leaked information on the 1982 mass murder of Mayans?

Certainly, it is important that each Westphalian nation-state respect diversity of self-determination, and restrain from imposition of ideologies. But when the global community has agreed to basic standards for human rights, what is the responsibility of each to ensure that these rights are upheld within a regional community?

Published in Justice & Democracy | Society & Culture by Kennedy Graham on Mon, February 10th, 2014   

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